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Pension Charges

Volume 570: debated on Monday 18 November 2013

As my hon. Friend knows, we are consulting on whether there should be cap on charges in workplace pensions and, if so, what costs it should cover. Without pre-empting the consultation, he can be assured that our presumption would be in favour of a broad definition of charges for those purposes.

I thank the pensions Minister for that answer and congratulate him on his consultation on introducing a cap that is 50% of the level of the cap for stakeholder pensions introduced when the Opposition were in government. That is a step forward. A further step forward across the whole industry would be to have better comparability and transparency of charges generally. We have acted to do that for energy companies by simplifying charge structures. Will we consider doing that for pensions?

I thank my hon. Friend for being the only Member who managed to get a pensions question on today’s Order Paper. [Interruption.] I will make the most of it. He is quite right that the Office of Fair Trading identified 18 different sorts of charges, which are often baffling and hidden. One of its recommendations was that the committees that oversee pensions should be given transparent information about charges, and that is a recommendation we will be looking to take forward.

Over the last generation the net size of employment units has shrunk as a function of technology and changes in society. That has meant smaller pension schemes that in net terms require a greater management effort to run them. What will the Minister do to try to bring together some of the smaller schemes to get better value for money overall?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. In fact, consolidation is happening; the number of medium-sized schemes has declined quite significantly in the past few years. The quality standards that we will be putting in place will mean that running a small, substandard, sub-scale scheme will not be an option, so we anticipate that there will be much more consolidation. Together with the National Employment Savings Trust, the Government’s own scheme which already has over 500,000 members, we are moving towards better value for money.

Tonight on Channel 4, the Minister will accuse big pension companies of making excess profits at the expense of those who have worked hard and saved all their lives. “Dispatches” will claim that many savers are losing up to £10,000 per year every year in their retirement as the companies make excess profits, yet the Pensions Bill that the Minister has just taken through the Commons does precisely nothing to tackle rip-offs in annuities. When will he get a grip on the annuities market and end these rip-offs?

I make no apology for defending consumers against an abuse that has gone on for far too long, with people buying annuities where they will get their money back only if they live until they are 90 or beyond. The Financial Conduct Authority, which was created only about six months ago, has already reported on annuities and will bring forward further proposals. We are working with our colleagues at the Treasury who lead on these matters to make sure that this issue, which has gone long unaddressed by successive Governments, is finally tackled.